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Lake City FL: Filling a Vacated City Council Seat Has the Council Flying By the Seat of Its Pants

Image of circus clown with copy: the Lake City Circus Continues
Image by Joshua Wilson via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – In the civilized world, filling a vacated city council seat should be a simple matter. There would be a written procedure, and the municipality’s elected governing body would follow it. In Lake City, Florida, the governing body is the City Council. There is no procedure, unless one counts “flying by the seat of your pants.”


Lake City, City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.
City Attorney Fred Koberlein, lately his performances have not been sterling.   (file)

In 2020, Lake City, under the watchful eye of its City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., did a ten-year review of its Home Rule Charter. He guided the Charter Review Board (CRB); he sped over the sections concerning filling a vacated city council seat; he did not alert the CRB to any difficulties.

It is difficult to tell, but a look at the Municode list of Charter ordinances, something else in which the City is delinquent in updating timely, indicates that the section of the Charter regarding the replacement of a vacated City Council seat goes back to the 80s.

Times aren’t a’ changin’ in Lake City.

Filling a Vacant Seat
What does the City Charter Say?

It’s pretty simple:

“The council shall within sixty (60) days from the date the vacancy occurred, by a majority vote of the remaining members, choose a successor to serve said unexpired term of the vacated council seat.”

The City Charter is clear.  While there are parts of the Florida Statutes that must be followed, like the Sunshine Laws, all the City Council had to do was "choose a successor to serve said unexpired term of the vacated council seat.”

The City Council must vote to do something. The simplest way is by motion.

On October 26, 2021, the City Council did just that. See: Befaithful Coker Fills Vacated Lake City, City Council Seat on Sixth Motion:  Stick-to-itiveness and a do-over paid dividends

By motion, after a 3-1 vote, Befaithful Coker became the City Councilperson from District 14.

Clerk's handwritten notes of October 26, 2021

The City Clerk's handwritten notes are the following: "motion to appoint BC [Befaithful Coker] – passed 6:42 pm."

Other than Ms. Coker filing her Oath of Office,
should that have been the end of it?

The short answer is yes.

The City Charter allowed the Council to make whatever rules it desired when the process began, and it did make some. It required the Council candidates to write something about themselves and answer some questions.

All the candidates did that.

On October 13, the City Council reviewed and interviewed the candidates and voted to appoint Stephen Douglas to fill the vacated seat.

The City Council voted for Mr. Douglas by secret ballot. Voting by secret ballot is against the law. The City’s Attorney-Parliamentarian could have pointed that out. He didn’t.

Unless someone held the Council to account, Mr. Douglas was then the rightful owner of the vacant council seat.

Someone did.

On October 18 candidate Coker filed a lawsuit claiming the Sunshine Law violation, specifically that the Council came to vote for Mr. Douglas by a secret ballot.

While there is nothing in writing, it was clear that City Attorney Koberlein and Ms. Coker’s attorney had worked out a deal that the Sunshine Law violation would be “cured.”

The Sunshine violation was cured without further litigation, and Mr. Douglas’ seat was taken away by the City Council.

Mr. Douglas made no further claim to the seat, and that ended the appointment of Mr. Douglas.

October 26, 2021
Befaithful Coker Is Appointed to the City Council

On October 26, 2021, on the sixth ballot, Ms. Coker was appointed to fill the vacant City Council seat.

Link to filed Oath of OfficeOn November 1, 2021, early in the day, Ms. Coker filed her City Clerk provided Oath of Office with the Clerk.

According to Ms. Coker, she was told by City Clerk Audrey Sikes, “Only the City Clerk could give the Oath of Office.”

This pronouncement flies in the face of the Florida Statutes and is flat wrong.

City Clerk Sikes never advised the City Council that Ms. Coker had filed her Oath of Office earlier in the day.

At 7:47 pm, Wednesday, November 3, City Clerk Sikes provided the meeting material for this evening's special City Council meeting. Absent from the agenda material were the minutes of the relevant meetings of October 13 and October 26. While they were completed, had anyone gone to the City Website, they would not have found the minutes there.

Also missing were the minutes of November 1, which had the City Council reconsidering the appointment of Ms. Coker to the Council.

Yesterday, one of Florida's award-winning attorneys provided his analysis to City Attorney Koberlein. In that analysis, he pointed out the issues with the reconsideration and do-over issues, taking exception to the actions of the City Council and the City Attorney for the events of October 26 and November 1.

For Ms. Coker to claim her lawful appointment, the City Council and City Attorney may be forcing her once again to head back to court to seek justice.


Lake City Florida, the City that doesn’t get embarrassed.

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